I often mention in my posts that essential oils need to be treated with caution, and that most of them need to be diluted before you use them topically. But what do I mean when I say that, and how do you go about doing that? This post covers carrier oils, the most common method for the dilution of essential oils.
What are Carrier Oils?
Carrier oils are inert oils used to dilute the more volatile essential oils. Most of them are plant-derived and have little to no aroma. Often, carrier oils also have benefits of their own (for example coconut oil is a great moisturizer) and can be paired with specific essential oils for added benefits when applied topically.
The most common carrier oils are olive oil, coconut oil (which has had the internet buzzing lately), sunflower oil, and grapeseed oil. Other less common (and more expensive) carrier oils are argan oil, jojoba oil, and emu oil. (for a more complete list check out this page)
My personal favorite carrier oils are coconut oil and argan oil. Coconut oil is great all over, and I like using argan oil for my face because it’s a bit more expensive. [One of my favorite companies, Rocky Mountain Oils, recently released a new line of carrier oils that you can check out here.]
Things to Look For when Buying a Carrier Oil
Not all carrier oils are created equal. Many of the oils sold in grocery stores are highly processed and have lost some of the natural benefits of the oil.
When shopping for carrier oils, look for cold-pressed or cold expeller pressed oils. This means that the oil has been extracted with the least amount of heat possible. As I mentioned in an earlier diffuser post, essential oils can be damaged by high heat. The same logic works for carrier oils. When they are heated, the molecular structure can be damaged, and often this causes a certain level of toxicity to become present. (This is also why most oils are actually unfit for cooking temperatures, breaking down into cancer-causing free radicals. But more on that in a later post).
Related: Is Your Cooking Oil Causing Cancer?
Choose “virgin” oils. This applies most to olive oil, but coconut oil is sometimes labeled as virgin as well. When it comes to olive oil, there is an international standard that defines exactly what qualities extra virgin olive oil has compared to virgin olive oil compared to olive oil and so on. Some of these standards include the trans fatty acid content and free fatty acid content (for the complete list click here). Extra virgin olive oil has the lowest percentage of these fatty acids while crude olive oil has the highest. Trans fats are the worst kinds of fats you can eat (so bad the FDA will soon ban them from the food supply), and since anything you put on your skin is absorbed into your body, it makes sense to limit the trans fats in your carrier oils.
When it comes to coconut oil, there is no defined standard that the oil meets when it is labeled “virgin.” However there are specific processing techniques used to create virgin coconut oil, which are listed and explained here. The short explanation is that usually virgin coconut oil is more sanitary and less processed, meaning you can feel safer absorbing it into your body.
One last thing to consider is how the carrier oil feels on your skin (whether or not it absorbs quickly, leaves you feeling oily, moisturizes your particular skin type, etc). In the end this really comes down to personal preference, but there are a few overarching guidelines. You can find profiles of many carrier oils on this website, including facts about the oils and how deeply they penetrate the skin.
Note: coconut oil is comedegenic, meaning it will clog your pores, so it’s best not to use it on your face.
How to Use Carrier Oils
On the most basic level, to use a carrier oil to dilute an essential oil, you just mix together the oils in a glass container (it is important to use glass because essential oils react with plastic) in the appropriate ratios. From there you can apply the mixture to your skin, hair, etc per the recommended usage for those oils.
Proper dilution of each oil is essential to avoid adverse side effects such as burns and rashes. Each oil has its own minimum dilution recommendation (meaning you could dilute it more than the recommended amount but definitely not less). Since it can be almost impossible to remember the exact dilution for each oil, I’ve created a one-page essential oil dilution guide that summarizes the minimum dilutions recommended for each oil. It has been simplified into three categories: Neat (undiluted) 80:20 (80% carrier oil) and 50:50 (50% carrier oil). I would recommend higher dilutions than these simply because I have found that they will often work just as well and you end up using less of your precious (expensive) oil with each use.
Click the image below to download the free essential oil dilution guide! (Plus you’ll get access to ALL of the resources in my FREE resource library!)
What’s your favorite carrier oil? Got any favorite combinations? Let me know in the comments below!